The first thing we do when we get to any place where we’ll be for a few days is orientation. We’ll just go for a mooch and get to grips with where we are and where things are. The main place to stay in Kathmandu for the backpacker is Thamel. At the centre of it all is Thamel Chowk. A Chowk is basically a place where streets converge and havoc happens as no one has a clue what to do. But in terms of figuring out where you are or when getting taxis etc they are great.
Kathmandu is about 1400m above sea level and so you are about half way between safety and altitude sickness. At about 3000m the human body can no longer sustain itself without proper acclimatisation and so people check out or get seriously ill. This is important because trips from here can easily take you above the 3000m and before you know it you’re in serious risk of parting with life. I’m not a doctor, but any person should know that above 3000m if you get a headache or feel sick then get down below 3000m asap.
Kathmandu is disgusting. It is a massive city full of pollution, waste and filth. Thamel is just a concentration of that and is essentially a small area full of restaurants, guesthouses, craft shops, laundrettes and places to buy climbing/trekking gear. A tenner will pick you up a £300 Rab jacket and if you believe you are getting the genuine article then good luck. Though to be fair you really must be a knob to come all the way out here to go trekking and then start buying your gear.
Hassle from hawkers is actually kept to a minimum and those that do offer their services for things like Tiger Balm or Kukris only need telling once.
The day started out with a walk to a place called Durbar Sq which is supposedly the best concentration of Temples in Nepal. It was bonk, almost as overrated as Madonna it was a bit lame to be honest. You are supposed to pay about 250NPR to get in but we did a sly one and didn’t pay –Thankfully. After about ten minutes we’d had enough and so got a rickshaw out to Monkey Temple (Swayambhunath) I couldn’t be arsed haggling and so paid 250NPR which is about £2 for the 20 minute journey. The guy ditched us at the bottom of some stairs and told me the temple was behind the one in front. So off we went climbing these steps and called off into a temple, on the way we found some wild turtles (might have been tortoises I don’t even know the difference) we messed about with them for a bit and then after visiting the temple tried looking for the monkey temple. I asked directions and was pointed down a road. I soon realised we had been jazzed and were walking through some rural Nepalese village on the outskirts of Kathmandu. About half hour later we arrived at the base of the Monkey Temple. I am not joking there were about half a million steps, I died about five times getting to the top. There were monkeys everywhere (obviously) and Charlie was still cautious after getting a slap from one in Malaysia last year. Anyway, a month later we reached the temple at the top and I don’t know what was more amazing, the view over Kathmandu or the temple. It was well worth the mission and a real highlight.
We got a taxi to the bus station from the temple and went through some really disgusting places. Poverty is rife in Nepal and we saw it first hand, it really was a sad thing to see.
When we got to the bus station I attempted to buy our bus tickets out to Pokhara for this Saturday. I failed and realised we’d been brought to the local bus station, it was so hectic and humid we just jumped in a taxi back to Thamel. In terms of taxi’s 200NPR will get you to most places, and when you ask for a price you will invariably be asked “what price you pay sir” If like me you just cannot be arsed haggling over pence say “250 Rupees” and you will save a lot of hassle and be welcomed in with open arms and will reduce your chance of going home via a carpet shop or whatever.
Once back in Thamel we were blown. It was about 3pm and we were exhausted. I enquired at the hotel for bus tickets and got a good price – 500NPR each for the 8 hour journey which is about £4.40 To put it into perspective a flight is $98USD each and takes 25 minutes, yet it takes 8 hours on the bus, such is the state of the roads.
The kids have been getting into the whole food situation and both have sampled (and enjoyed) Nepal’s prime dish ‘Momo Buff’ which is basically the Nepalese attempt to pass off Dumplings as their own except with Buffalo meat added. Charlie is on with his curries and every meal time is looking for new things to try. Abi is the same, but only if it isn’t spicy.
Prices for food tend to be about 70NPR for veg fried rice, 100NPR for Chowmein and then mains such as curries etc costing in the region of 150NPR (0.60/0.90/£1.30) Drinks like in India depend on where you are drinking them. Basically a bottle of Coke costs 25NPR (0.20) if you drink it at the shop. The reality is that the bottle is worth 15NPR and so worth more than the contents.
The kids are loving Kathmandu so far and both have already chosen their souvenir from here. Abi is getting a little handmade purse from Yak wool and Charlie is getting a Kukri. Me, I’ll settle for an ice cold bottle of Everest and a smile on the kids faces.